More precaution needed to prevent spread of invasives

 

Lansing – New research on efforts by anglers to prevent the spread of invasive species in the Great Lakes shows most are aware and concerned about the problem, but not all are taking the proper precautions.

The Journal of Great Lakes Research published a recent study by Cornell University researchers in June that gleaned attitudes about aquatic invasives from surveys mailed to 1,000 likely anglers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin in 2013.

The results showed the vast majority, about 74 percent, are aware of aquatic invasive species, and 95 percent of those respondents understand that the invaders negatively impact fish populations and their fishing experience.

Nearly all of them – more than 90 percent – were moderately or very concerned about the impact of invasive species.

Researchers asked anglers whether they were aware of the recommendations to prevent the spread of invasive species, and about 80 percent indicated they are. But when it came to taking action, only a mere 5 percent took all five recommended measures to guard against the spread, which includes inspecting boats and equipment, draining boat livewells, removing plant and animal material from vessels, disinfecting equipment with hot water, and drying boats and gear.

About 10 percent of respondents reportedly never take any precautions, and the majority took some action but generally avoided the more labor intensive precautions like disinfecting and drying boats.

“The study really was to try to understand whether anglers … are following the recommendations and why or why not,” Bruce Lauber, one of the Cornell researchers, told Michigan Outdoor News.

“They seem to be well aware of (invasive species) and many are taking actions … to prevent the spread of invasives and pathogens,” he said. “The things people were less likely to do were things that were complicated behaviors and that generally had to do with washing and drying boats.”

Lauber believes the research could be used to better inform the national Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers campaign used by many states to educate anglers about invasive species, and how to keep them from spreading.

“I felt like there were some positives and some negatives to take out of this,” Lauber said.

“A lot of people have gotten the message that Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers is trying to get to people,” he said.

The research also seems to suggest, however, that the campaign may need to shift focus to why it’s critical to follow all the recommendations, and work on simplifying the process, Lauber said.

“I believe a lot of groups doing outreach are doing exactly that – simplifying the process and finding ways to make it easier for people,” he said.

Seth Herbst, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Michigan DNR, said the Cornell survey results are “concerning.”

“The thing that I see as concerning, what the study shows, is the easy steps – pulling your plug when you remove the boat from the water – 75 percent of people are taking those steps,” he said, noting that fewer are following all of the recommendations.

“When you think that we have over 1 million anglers and 900,000 registered boats in Michigan … with that many people out on the landscape going from water body to water body, the risk is very high of spreading invasive species.”

The research follows the discovery this spring of the invasive New Zealand mud snail in the Au Sable River, one of the state’s top trout streams, in Grayling. Biologists believe it was likely transported there by anglers from other infected areas, such as the Pere Marquette River, the first in the state to receive the mud snails in 2015.

The snails follow a long line of invasive aquatic invaders that have wreaked havoc on the Great Lakes, from sea lamprey to zebra and quagga mussels to round gobies.

“It’s an issue that goes beyond just being aware, it’s to the point people have to take action to prevent the spread of invasive species,” Herbst said, adding that the state has invested millions in education campaigns and management efforts for invasive species.

Herbst also pointed out that state law requires boaters to take some steps, such as removing plants or mud and draining water from boats before they leave the lake.

“It comes down to the fact that it’s difficult to get people to change their behaviors and take those decontamination steps,” he said.

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